I started in ministry much later in life. I was 38 when I began vocational ministry. The experience I gained in the business world has helped me greatly in ministry.
One thing I love doing in ministry is investing in young pastors; especially those who may not have previous leadership experience—and are teachable. And, I’m encouraged by what I see in this generation of pastors entering church work. They want to learn and grow from more seasoned leaders.
Of course, in full disclosure, I consistently try to convince them I’m not the guy to listen to, but they keep asking for advice, so I keep sharing. One question I’m asked frequently is very generic: What advice would you give to someone just starting in ministry?
Well, there’s a bunch probably, but I have a few I go to frequently.
Here are seven pieces of advice I give to young pastors:
Don’t try to have all the answers
Fall in love with wisdom. Keep reading and studying. Keep growing personally in your walk with Christ, but also surround yourself with wiser people. Make it a point to always have mentors in your life. In my 50s I still have mentors. They are simply older now than the mentors I had when I was in my 20s.
As a pastor, people will look to you for lots of wisdom and answers. Many times you won’t know the answer to give them at the time (and this never stops being reality). Obviously, you ultimately want to hear from God, but unless you are a quicker listener than me or God speaks to you faster than He does me, you’ll be caught in the hall or in a meeting sometime when you’re presented with a situation you didn’t see coming and need immediate answers. God encouraged us throughout His Word to seek wise counsel.
Don’t be afraid to tell people you simply don’t have an answer, but you’ll be happy to try to help them find one. Or, connect them with someone who does. Ultimately, there will be times they will have to wait on God for an answer just as you’ve had to do and will many times.
Prioritize your life
You’ll be pulled in many directions. Make sure you have a plan for your time and center it around what you want to accomplish and where you want to be in the years to come. Don’t neglect your family for the ministry or destroy your ministry for temporary pleasures of the world. Priorities should be in place before the world throws all it will throw at you. Isn’t this the example Jesus gave to us?
You’ll have lots of opportunities to do many things in your life and career. Make sure you can look back someday and see you at least attempted to do the right things.
Learn the secret of contentment
You’ll need it. There’s a draw in ministry toward bigger and better. I believe in dreaming big dreams. You’ll never have a dream for yourself bigger than God’s dream for you.
You will be encouraged to compare numbers. Other pastors will even will ask first about them. And, I think numbers matter if they represent people, but they are not the most important measure, in my opinion. Changing one life for Jesus is more important than simply breaking the 100 attendance barrier if lives are staying the same.
Most likely, unless your name is Stanley or Groeschel—or some other name we tend to compare ourselves to—you won’t have the largest church or the fastest growing church. Learn to be content with who God has made you to be and what He has called you to do. And, be thankful for where He has allowed you to be at the time.
If you want to compare—compare yourself to God’s call upon your life. Are you being faithful to His call to the best of your ability?
Intentionally invest in others
You can’t call yourself a disciple-maker unless you are personally making disciples.
I understand your teaching on Sunday will be building disciples. A good message should be, but the Jesus model involves intentionally investing in a few people at a time. Jesus concentrated most of His energy on 12 guys and even more on three in His inner circle. Shouldn’t we do likewise?
Always be intentionally and personally mentoring a few. It will keep you close to people in the trenches of life and help you build more solid leadership in the church.
Keep moving forward through the disappointments of life
You will have plenty of setbacks. Life and people will disappoint you. The reason church leadership is hard is you’re leading people. You’re going to find plenty of critics along the way. The only way to avoid it is to do nothing—and that’s not even being a leader.
At times you may fail to understand what God is allowing to happen in your life. Keep the vision of your overall calling to God in mind and push forward, regardless of the obstacles which come your way. And, I’m convinced we are called first to a person—Jesus—far more than to a people. Keep God’s purposes first and work for His approval and you’ll be fine.
Ground your theology in Jesus
There are lots of theological methodologies around. Someone will be happy to shape your theology for you and put a nice little easily understood bow around it. Life has just never seemed to work by script for me or the people in churches where I have been pastor. (Maybe we are doing it wrong, but I think it’s called life.)
I’m not suggesting you stop growing in knowledge or in the “deeper” things of God. You should always be growing. I’m working on my fourth advanced degree now.
I am suggesting you never get beyond the simple child-like, overwhelming awe of who Jesus is and how He loves you and what He did for you on the cross. Center your beliefs firmly and completely around the person of Christ. Set Christ as your end goal, desire to be like Him. Discipline your life to do as Jesus would do.
Then invite others to follow your lead. Shepherd them to embrace your love for the Good Shepherd. Let the grace, glory and goodness of Jesus shape your life and ministry.
God knows best
As a pastor, there will be plenty of voices in your life. You’ll have plenty of advice from deacons, elders, Sunday school teachers and flower committee members. Someone even has an opinion about the color of paint your office should be. Just put it before the church in a survey and test me on this.
Appreciate the suggestions of everyone. Be open to suggestions and even criticism when warranted. Never assume you know it all or you are “in control”—you’re not. I believe God uses people to speak into our lives and He allows us huge latitude in making decisions for ourselves. But, in matters of huge importance, when you are making life-altering decisions, hold out for a word from God.
Of course, this is good advice for all ages (and not just pastors), but the majority of questions I receive are from younger pastors. I’m not sure what it says about us older pastors, but it is been true in my ministry that the younger a pastor is the more willing to heed advice.